Lionel Messi hat-trick sends Argentina through to the World Cup 2018

Argentina are going to the World Cup in Russia next year thanks to a superb Lionel Messi hat-trick, as the Albiceleste defeated Ecuador 3-1. Elsewhere, Peru pipped Chile to fifth in the South American qualifying group.

Lionel Messi, the world’s most coveted football star, will be at next year’s World Cup in Russia after all. The Argentinian striker netted a stunning hat-trick to see off a hard-fighting Ecuador side in Quito on Tuesday night. 

Star-studded Argentina went into their last game in South America’s World Cup qualifying group knowing that nothing less than a win would see them qualify for next summer’s showcase tournament.

The two-time World Cup winners had endured a dismal qualification campaign going into Tuesday’s clash, having won just six of their 17 qualification matches.

They looked to have carried their rotten form with them to Quito, falling behind after just 38 seconds as Ecuador’s Romario Ibarra thumped a shot past Argentine keeper Sergio Romero from the edge of the box. At that point, the Albiceleste would have finished sixth in the 10-nation group and missed out on the World Cup for the first time since 1970.

Messi drives his second goal of the night into the roof of the net.

However, Argentine captain Lionel Messi stepped up, netting Argentina’s equalizer after 12 minutes by stabbing home a cross from Angel Di Maria.

Nine minutes later, he got his second, dodging a limp challenge as he raced towards the goal and driving the ball past the Ecuadorian keeper at the near post.

Messi saved his best for last when he grabbed his and Argentina’s third goal of the evening. Cutting onto a loose ball half-way in the opposition’s side of the field, Argentina’s number 10 darted towards the goal before beautifully chipping the ball over the goalkeeper.

Panic over — Argentina were heading to Russia and they knew it. Ecuador, who were already eliminated, posed little threat after Messi completed his one-man show.

Chile’s Jorge Valdivia holds his head as his underperforming side slumped to a 3-0 defeat against Brazil.

Peru through to play-offs as Chile’s World Cup dream dashed

Chile, the reigning Copa America champions, failed to qualify for next summer’s tournament after going down 3-0 in Brazil. Paulinho grabbed the first for the Little Canaries before Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus scored a brace.

That meant Peru finished the group in fifth place on goal difference, securing a play-off against Oceania representative New Zealand. They drew 1-1 with Colombia on Tuesday and if they come out on top against the Kiwis, they’ll play their first World Cup tournament since 1982. 

Other matches across the continent saw Venezuela win 1-0 in Paraguay and Uruguay beat Bolivia 4-2.

Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Colombia all qualify automatically for the next year’s tournament.

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